Thursday, May 21, 2015

On Writing: Student Application Personal Statements

Essays About Work and Class That Caught a College’s Eye

from The New York Times, May 21, 2018

Clare Connaughton wrote about shopping at thrift stores.

Of the 1,200 or so undergraduate admission essays that Chris Lanser reads each year at Wesleyan University, maybe 10 are about work.
This is not much of a surprise. Many applicants have never worked. Those with plenty of money may be afraid of calling attention to their good fortune. And writing about social class is difficult, given how mixed up adolescents often are about identity.
Yet it is this very reluctance that makes tackling the topic a risk worth taking at schools where it is hard to stand out from the thousands of other applicants. Financial hardship and triumph, and wants and needs, are the stuff of great literature. Reflecting on them is one excellent way to differentiate yourself in a deeply personal way.
To read the rest of the article click on this.

To read a companion article with students in their own words click on this.

To read four college application personal essays about moneyby students click on this.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Writers on Writing: Writing Your Way to Happiness

from The New York Times, January 19, 2015
Writing Your Way to Happiness

CreditChris Gash
The Well Column
Tara Parker-Pope on living well.
The scientific research on the benefits of so-called expressive writing is surprisingly vast. Studies have shown that writing about oneself and personal experiences can improve mood disorders, help reduce symptoms among cancer patients, improve a person’s health after a heart attack, reduce doctor visits and even boost memory.
Now researchers are studying whether the power of writing — and then rewriting — your personal story can lead to behavioral changes and improve happiness.
The concept is based on the idea that we all have a personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves. But sometimes our inner voice doesn’t get it completely right. Some researchers believe that by writing and then editing our own stories, we can change our perceptions of ourselves and identify obstacles that stand in the way of better health.
It may sound like self-help nonsense, but research suggests the effects are real.
In one of the earliest studies on personal story editing, researchers gathered 40 college freshman at Duke University who were struggling academically. Not only were they worried about grades, but they questioned whether they were intellectual equals to other students at their school.
The students were divided into intervention groups and control groups. Students in the intervention group were given information showing that it is common for students to struggle in their freshman year. They watched videos of junior and senior college students who talked about how their own grades had improved as they adjusted to college.
The goal was to prompt these students to edit their own narratives about college. Rather than thinking they weren’t cut out for college, they were encouraged to think that they just needed more time to adjust.
The intervention results, published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, were startling. In the short term, the students who had undergone the story-changing intervention got better grades on a sample test. But the long-term results were the most impressive.
Students who had been prompted to change their personal stories improved their grade-point averages and were less likely to drop out over the next year than the students who received no information. In the control group, which had received no advice about grades, 20 percent of the students had dropped out within a year. But in the intervention group, only 1 student — or just 5 percent — dropped out.
In another study, Stanford researchers focused on African-American students who were struggling to adjust to college. Some of the students were asked to create an essay or video talking about college life to be seen by future students. The study found that the students who took part in the writing or video received better grades in the ensuing months than those in a control group.
Another writing study asked married couples to write about a conflict as a neutral observer. Among 120 couples, those who explored their problems through writing showed greater improvement in marital happiness than those who did not write about their problems.
“These writing interventions can really nudge people from a self-defeating way of thinking into a more optimistic cycle that reinforces itself,” said Timothy D. Wilson, a University of Virginia psychology professor and lead author of the Duke study.
Dr. Wilson, whose book “Redirect: Changing the Stories We Live By,” was released in paperback this month, believes that while writing doesn’t solve every problem, it can definitely help people cope. “Writing forces people to reconstrue whatever is troubling them and find new meaning in it,” he said.
Much of the work on expressive writing has been led by James Pennebaker, a psychology professor at the University of Texas. In one of his experiments, college students were asked to write for 15 minutes a day about an important personal issue or superficial topics. Afterward, the students who wrote about personal issues had fewer illnesses and visits to the student health center.
“The idea here is getting people to come to terms with who they are, where they want to go,” said Dr. Pennebaker. “I think of expressive writing as a life course correction.”
At the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute, life coaches ask clients to identify their goals, then to write about why they haven’t achieved those goals.
Once the clients have written their old stories, they are asked to reflect on them and edit the narratives to come up with a new, more honest assessment. While the institute doesn’t have long-term data, the intervention has produced strong anecdotal results.
In one example, a woman named Siri initially wrote in her “old story” that she wanted to improve her fitness, but as the primary breadwinner for her family she had to work long hours and already felt guilty about time spent away from her children.
With prompting, she eventually wrote a new story, based on the same facts but with a more honest assessment of why she doesn’t exercise. “The truth is,” she wrote, “I don’t like to exercise, and I don’t value my health enough. I use work and the kids to excuse my lack of fitness.”
Intrigued by the evidence that supports expressive writing, I decided to try it myself, with the help of Jack Groppel, co-founder of the Human Performance Institute.
Like Siri, I have numerous explanations for why I don’t find time for exercise. But once I started writing down my thoughts, I began to discover that by shifting priorities, I am able to make time for exercise.
“When you get to that confrontation of truth with what matters to you, it creates the greatest opportunity for change,” Dr. Groppel said.
To read the article at The New York Times click on Writing Your Way to Happiness
Related: The Benefits of a Personal Mission Statement
Related: Does Handwriting Matter?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

"Summertime" and "A Change is Gonna Come" by Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke sings "Summertime" by George Gershwin, one of the great
American composers. Cooke recorded it in 1957.


And the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin'

And the cotton is high

Oh, Your daddy's rich
And your mamma's good lookin'
So hush little baby
Don't you cry

One of these mornings
You're going to rise up singing
Then you'll spread your wings
And you'll take to the sky

But until that morning
There's a'nothing can harm you
With your daddy and mammy standing by

And the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin'
And the cotton is high

Your daddy's rich
And your mamma's good lookin'
So hush little baby
Don't you cry

One of America's greatest singers, Sam Cooke's life was cut short when he was shot and killed in Los Angeles. He was 33 at the time. More about Sam Cooke (1931-64) at Songs of Sam Cooke.

Sam Cooke sings "A Change is Gonna Come,"
a Civil Rights anthem he wrote in 1964, the year of his death.

"A Change is Gonna Come"

I was born by the river in a little tent
And just like that river I've been running ever since
It's been a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will

It's been too hard living, but I'm afraid to die
'Cause I don't know what's out there beyond the sky
It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will

I go to the movie
And I go down town
somebody keep telling me don't hang around
It's been a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will

Then I go to my brother
And I say brother help me please
But he winds up knockin' me
Back down on my knees

There were times when I thought I couldn't last for long
But now I think I'm able to carry on
It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gone come, oh yes it will

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Wriers on Writing: Phillip Lopate (The Essay, an Exercise in Doubt)

The Essay, an Exercise in Doubt

The New York Times, February 16, 2013

By Philip Lopate

Draft is a series about the art and craft of writing.
I am an essayist, for better or worse. I don’t suppose many young people dream of becoming essayists. Even as nerdy and bookish a child as I was fantasized about entering the lists of fiction and poetry, those more glamorous, noble genres on which Nobels, Pulitzers and National Book Awards are annually bestowed. So if Freud was right in saying that we can be truly happy only when our childhood ambitions are fulfilled, then I must be content to be merely content.
I like the freedom that comes with lowered expectations. In the area of literary nonfiction, memoirs attract much more attention than essay collections, which are published in a modest, quasi-invisible manner, in keeping with anticipated lower sales. But despite periodic warnings of the essay’s demise, the stuff does continue to be published; if anything, the essay has experienced a slight resurgence of late. I wonder if that may be because it is attuned to the current mood, speaks to the present moment. At bottom, we are deeply unsure and divided, and the essay feasts on doubt.
Ever since Michel de Montaigne, the founder of the modern essay, gave as a motto his befuddled “What do I know?” and put forth a vision of humanity as mentally wavering and inconstant, the essay has become a meadow inviting contradiction, paradox, irresolution and self-doubt. The essay’s job is to track consciousness; if you are fully aware of your mind you will find your thoughts doubling back, registering little peeps of ambivalence or disbelief.
According to Theodor Adorno, the iron law of the essay is heresy. What is heresy if not the expression of contrarian doubt about communal pieties or orthodox positions? This is sometimes called “critical thinking,” an ostensible goal of education in a democracy. But since such thinking often rocks the boat, we may find it less than supported in school settings. Typically, the exercise of doubt is something an individual has to cultivate on his or her own, in private, before summoning the courage to air it, say, in an essay.
Alexander Glandien
Recently, with fiercely increased competition for admission to the better colleges, the “common app” essay has become an obsessive focus on the part of high school administrators, parents and students. This part of the college application requires each applicant to file a personal statement, a prose reflection conveying individual sensibility, experience or worldview.
Tutors advertise on lampposts for after-school courses to prep the college aspirant for the most seductive, winning common app. (I am delighted to see this career path opening for indigent essayists.) The problem is that, more often than not, the applicant is expected to put forward a confident presentation of self that is more like an advertisement, a smooth civic-minded con job, circumventing the essay’s gift for candid, robust self-doubt.
When my daughter Lily, now a college freshman, was applying to schools, she wrote what I thought was a perfect common app essay about her mixed attraction to the idea of melancholy. Her high school counselor, while conceding it was well written, forced her to abandon it because it might give schools the wrong impression that she was a “downer.” Earlier, Lily, whom I had encouraged to wear her ambivalence proudly, was reproved by teachers for writing papers that failed to support one side of a debate, instead arguing the validity of both positions.
I got it that they wanted her to sharpen her rhetorical ability. Argumentation is a good skill to have, but the real argument should be with oneself. Especially when it comes to the development of young writers, it is crucial to nudge them past that self-righteous inveighing, that shrill, defensive one-track that is deadly for personal essays or memoirs, and encourage a more polyphonic, playful approach. That may be why a classic essay technique is to stage an inner debate by thinking against oneself.
Doubt is my boon companion, the faithful St. Bernard ever at my side. Whether writing essays or just going about daily life, I am constantly second-guessing myself. My mind is filled with “yes, buts,” “so whats?” and other skeptical rejoinders. I am forever monitoring myself for traces of folly, insensitivity, arrogance, false humility, cruelty, stupidity, immaturity and, guess what, I keep finding examples. Age has not made me wiser, except maybe in retrospect. My wife sometimes complains that I will never admit I am wrong. Of course I do — granted, less than I should, but it’s not just because I am stubborn and hate to concede a point in the heat of argument. The main reason is that a part of me always assumes I’m wrong and at fault, to some extent; this is so obvious to me that it needn’t bear stating. In any case, I often forget to say it aloud. But I certainly think it.
Strangely enough, doubt need not impede action. If you really become friends with your doubt, you can go ahead and take risks, knowing you will be questioning yourself at every turn, no matter what. It is part of living, a healthy evolutionary adaptation, I would imagine. The mistake is in trying to tune out your doubts. Accept them as a necessary (or at least unavoidable) soundtrack.
The only danger, then, is becoming smug about one’s capacity for doubt — the essayist’s occupational hazard, to which I periodically succumb. I have found the exercise of doubt to be an enormous help in writing essays, because it lets me start out with the knowledge that I may very well not achieve perfection on the page. Then I can forgive myself in advance for falling short of the mark, and get on with it.

Phillip Lopate
Phillip Lopate, who directs the graduate nonfiction program at Columbia University, is the author, most recently, of “Portrait Inside My Head” and “To Show and to Tell.”
You can also find this essay at this site for The New York Times.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Come Venture into Steinbeck Country
  A program that takes you out of the classroom and into the rugged and beautiful Big Sur coastal rainforest

Summer 2015
Cohort Courses:  English 1B & Environmental Studies 1
(8 Units Honors Option)

About Monterey County John Steinbeck wrote:

It seems to be one of those pregnant places from which come wonders . . . I was born to it and my  father was. Our bodies came from this soil—our bones came . . . from the limestone of our own  mountains and our blood is distilled from the juices of this earth. I tell you that my country—a  hundred miles long and about fifty wide—is unique in the world.

The wonders of this landscape—from the yellow hills of Salinas to the roiling tide pools of Pacific Grove to the ancient rainforests of Big Sur—are more than just a backdrop for the social dramas of Steinbeck’s early fiction.  The natural history of Steinbeck’s country is inextricable from its human history.  Steinbeck’s profound sense of place calls out to us to experience his works where they came into being.

This course pairing is inspired not only by Steinbeck’s regional fiction, but also by his deep interest in natural science.  Equally inspiring is the work of Steinbeck’s best friend and collaborator, Ed Ricketts, whose book Between the Pacific Tides (1939) radically altered the scientific approach to classification of his time by using a holistic approach to intertidal habitats.  Steinbeck and Ricketts—a fiction writer and a scientist—might seem at first glance an unlikely pair, but they shared many philosophical ideas and a passion for understanding life.  Thus, their friendship and collaboration in a dynamic landscape provide the main impetus for this program.  Science and literature unite as we explore—philosophically and actually—the wonders of Steinbeck country.

In addition to meetings & the learning objectives of the courses, students will be hiking, exploring different ecosystems & ecological consequences to our actions, collaborating on projects, and camping in community.  Nature is our classroom! We will visit Malibu, the Center for Regenerative Studies at Cal Poly, the Hollywood Farmers Market, then venture to the Coastal Redwood Forest, Big Sur, Cannery Row, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Jeffers’ Tor House, and many other points of natural and literary interest along the way.

This cohort is offered only in Summer 2015 Second Session.
Enroll in ENG 1B #50658 (Krista Walter) and ENVS 1 #50692 (Erika Catanese)
Camping trip dates: 7/9-7/15

This program includes campus meetings, local fieldtrips, and a mandatory weeklong camping excursion to the central coast of California, including Big Sur.  Students who enroll in this cohort must be eligible for both courses and may not take other classes during second session.  Honors credit is available to students enrolled in the PCC Honors Program.  A fee of $200 is required and due the first day of class to cover the costs of the trip, which include transportation, admission fees, campgrounds, and food.  Space is limited.

For more information:
Professor Krista Walter or Professor Erika

Thursday, April 30, 2015

English 1C: Schedule, CONOVER, NEWJACK, Prison & False Convictions

Week 12
T 4/7
Revision Due: Research Essay (aka Essay #4)
Bring Conover’s Newjack to class
In-class re: prison life: The Farm & Abu Ghraib

Th 4/9

Class canceled

Week 13
Tues. 4/14
from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO read the preface-18; find online:
You don't need to print it out.
For information about Solzhenitsy, go here to his The Nobel Prize site. He won the Nobel in 1970. You can watch a video on Solzhenitsyn's life at this page.

At English with McCabe's Conover post read at least three of the articles and view videos on false convictions (LOOK FOR [*****] below for False Conviction topic.)
Newjack by Ted Conover (beginning-94)

Th 4/16
Newjack (95-126)

Week 14
T 4/21
Newjack (to page 209)

Th 4/23
Newjack (210-241)

Week 15
T 4/28
Newjack (242-303)
Group Presentations
Groups: email your 5 questions to me, this weekend. 

Th 4/30
Newjack (304-319)

Week 16 - Final Exam 
Bring your copy of Newjack, a blue book

Make sure you have the right day and time for the exam. Is this correct? Here and on your syllabus?

#English 1C that meets Tuesday/Thursday: 9:45-11:50
#Final Exam is Tuesday May 5th, 10:15-12:15 P.M.

#English 1C that meets Tuesday/Thursday: 1:00-3:05
#Final Exam is Tuesday May 5th, 1:00-3:00 P.M.

*Study Questions for the Final*

A. On page 99 in the last couple of sentences of the first paragraph, we find that Conover was told, “you’re going to learn, CO, that some things they taught you in the Academy can get you killed.” This can be either a threat or advice. What does it say about the prison system that what you were taught could cost you your life? Offer five examples from Newjack to develop your discussion.

B. What does Conover mean when he says, “I was probably somewhere in between”? (221) What does this say about Conover’s personality and his connection to prison life? In support of your position give a half dozen specific examples from Newjack where Conover is “in between.”

C. Why does Conover place one or more epigraphs at the beginning of every chapter in Newjack? Does he use them to strengthen the argument that he is trying to make within the chapter, or does he offer them as counter examples to what he believes? Explain.

D.  Turn to pages 123-26 (and other pages, too) as you discuss Conover's experience with inmates as a corrections officer, writer, and citizen. With reference to a half-dozen examples from Newjack, how does Conover compartmentalize (i.e., divide) his perspective as corrections officer, writer, and citizen? Explain.

E.  Does Conover offer a fair representation of his superiors (as corrections officers) or does he seem set on making them look like bad guys?  Explain with a half-dozen examples from Newjack.

F. Could the contrasting relationship between Conover and Dieter serve as an example of who Conover will be as a correction officer? Explain your position with a half-dozen examples from the book.

Note: when presenting examples, find ones that are representative of the whole book and the story Conover tells.

See Ted Conover's websiteIt is worth a visit. Check out his blog post Yo, CO! Vinny Retires. It gives a nice insight into Conover and his former CO colleagues. Unfortunately, Conover's  interview with Charlie Rose is no longer available at his website here or on the Charlie Rose website. (But try it again; it might get reposted.) However, I have a copy of the interview, so we will (and did) watch it in class. 

At Conover's blog: Rehab at Sing Sing, May 22, 2012.  Here's the first two paragraphs of Conover's reflections: 
Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing is still considered contraband in New York state prisons – at least until the seven pages deemed a threat to security back in 2000 have been torn out. But though my book can’t come in whole, it appears that, as of last week, I can.
Rehabilitation Through The Arts, which helps stage a play at Sing Sing every year, invited me to see the inmate production of  “A Few Good Men.” To my surprise, Sing Sing approved my visit and then Albany said okay, as well. I was rehabilitated, politically speaking – and last Friday, for the first time since I turned in my badge in 1998, I passed back through the prison gate.
Go to Rehab at Sing Sing, May 22, 2012 to read more.

Conover also wrote "A Snitch’s Dilemma," about Alex White for The New York Times, June 29, 2012.  If there was ever a "secrets, lies and spies" story, this is it.  Here's the first paragraph:

"Kathryn Johnston was doing pretty well until the night the police showed up. Ever since her sister died, Johnston, 92, had lived alone in a rough part of Atlanta called the Bluff. A niece checked in often. One of the gifts she left was a pistol, so that her aunt might protect herself."

If you like, read the rest of Conover's story about Alex "the Snitch" White, a member of the Black Mafia Family, and "Behind the Cover Story: Ted Conover on the Murky World of the Snitch" for Conover's point-of-view about his article.

Conover also has a report on a slaughterhouse in Harper's, May 2013. 

From Harper's May 2013 issue
The Way of All Flesh
Undercover in an industrial slaughterhouse
By Ted Conover

Here's the first two paragraphs:

The cattle arrive in perforated silver trailers called cattle pots that let in wind and weather and vent out their hot breath and flatus. It’s hard to see inside a cattle pot. The drivers are in a hurry to unload and leave, and are always speeding by. (When I ask Lefty how meat gets bruised, he says, “You ever see how those guys drive?”) The trucks have come from feedlots, some nearby, some in western Nebraska, a few in Iowa. The plant slaughters about 5,100 cattle each day, and a standard double-decker cattle pot holds only about forty, so there’s a constant stream of trucks pulling in to disgorge, even before the line starts up a little after six a.m.

First the cattle are weighed. Then they are guided into narrow outdoor pens angled diagonally toward the entrance to the kill floor. A veterinarian arrives before our shift and begins to inspect them; she looks for open wounds, problems walking, signs of disease. When their time comes, the cattle will be urged by workers toward the curving ramp that leads up into the building. The ramp has a roof and no sharp turns. It was designed by the livestock expert Temple Grandin, and the curves and penumbral light are believed to soothe the animals in their final moments. But the soothing goes only so far.

The story continues at Harper's, but it only offers limited access to its magazine online, including the above Conover article. You may be able to find the full-text through EbscoHost, a database available through the PCC Shatford Library.

Sing Sing Prison Cell

RECOMMENDED: C-SPAN did a video documentary on Sing Sing in 1997, close to the time Conover was there. To watch the unedited footage go here and see inside Sing Sing, from correction officers to inmates, locked cells to its history and architecture.

William M. Vander Weyde (American, 1871-1929).
 Electric chair at Sing Sing, ca. 1900,
 glass plate negative.

RECOMMENDED: PBS Frontline has posted online "The New Asylums," its  report about prisons housing the mentally ill. Produced in 2005, the program runs about 60 minutes. It is introduced with these words:

"Fewer than 55,000 Americans currently receive treatment in psychiatric hospitals. Meanwhile, almost 10 times that number -- nearly 500,000 -- mentally ill men and women are serving time in U.S. jails and prisons. As sheriffs and prison wardens become the unexpected and often ill-equipped caretakers of this burgeoning population, they raise a troubling new concern: Have America's jails and prisons become its new asylums?"

Newjack by Ted Conover
Discussion Questions Suggested by Students

1. On page eight Conover writes that after making eye contact with the prisoners he got a “sense that grows of the human dimension of this colony.” What does this mean?

2. On page 99 in the last couple of sentences of the first paragraph, we find that Conover was told, “you’re going to learn, CO, that some things they taught you in the Academy can get you killed.” This can be either a threat or advice. What does it say about the prison system that what you were taught could cost you your life? Offer five examples from Newjack to develop your discussion.

3. Why would a professional enforce another officer’s questionable demand to keep a prisoner locked up? (See page 102 when a CO is asked to enforce a rule that wasn’t a rule.)

4. Why would one officer (in this case Wickersham) humiliate another officer in front of the prisoners? (See page 110 and the line, “Do you have a problem with picking this inmates comb off the floor?”)

5. With reference to page 122: Conover writes about being a correction officer from a man’s perspective, and he says that the job is depressing, tiring, and stressful. There are also female prison guards working in the male prison. Do these females go through the same emotional rollercoaster or are they more likely to be taunted by the inmates than male prison guards?

6. In Chapter 5 (171-209) Conover gives the reader background on the jail system and the development of electrocution. Why does he present this information and what was he trying to convey by discussing these topics? Offer five examples from throughout Newjack to support your position.

7. Study the Jack Henry Abbott quote on page 126. Does this quote reveal prison life as described by Conover? Explain.

8. What importance is Conover’s report of the suicide watch to his story about Sing Sing?

9. Why is Lewis Lawes so important to Sing Sing’s history? Why does Conover bother to tell us about him? (Pages 199-202)

10. What does Conover mean when he says, “I was probably somewhere in between”? (221) What does this say about Conover’s personality and his connection to prison life? In support of your position give  five specific examples from Newjack where Conover is “in between.”

11. Name five examples of race as a topic for Conover to discuss in his book. How is racial issues significant (or not) to life in Sing Sing?

View to the northwest, with B-Block on the left, A-Block to the right and
Messhall Building in the middle. B-Block yard, with more grass than at present, lies
 in the left foreground. This was probably taken in the 1960s. from Ted Conover's website.

Newjack by Ted Conover More Discussion Questions Suggested by Students
1. Do you think Conover is consistent when attempting to challenge the stereotypical views of prison life? For example, do you still view prisoners as victims? Or do you now feel sympathy for prison guards?

2. Do you feel content with what Conover has illustrated in Newjack? Or do you feel like certain scenarios have been left out? Is spending one year at Sing Sing enough time to really become familiar with a prison guard’s lifestyle?

3. Why does Conover place one or more epigraphs at the beginning of every chapter in Newjack? Does he use them to strengthen the argument that he is trying to make within the chapter, or does he offer them as counter examples to what he believes? Explain.

4. On page 142 Conover states, “No one, as far as I could see, improved in prison.” Do you think this--with reference to Newjack--also applies to the prison guards? Why?

5. Throughout the book Conover italicizes words and phrases such as “the cure” (142), “he” (150), “support” (155). Italics are usually used for emphasis or to show importance, but why is Conover italicizing these words?

6. At the end of their day in the Visit Room, Colton says, “It’s a regular Hallmark card” (156). What does he mean?

7. Do you think that correction officers “control” the inmates of the inmates “control” the correction officers? (234)

8.  The title of Chapter 7, "My Heart Inside Out," is taken from from Anne Frank's diary.  Who does it apply to in this chapter?  Why?

9. Why was it most common for things to go wrong in the prison with inmates during the holidays? Why is it that most suicides occur around that time of year? (294)

10. How hard was it for Conover to work as a CO with the prisoners? Give five examples from Newjack of the good and the bad for him, and then argue whether or not Conover was comfortable in the role of prison guard.

Original cell block at Sing Sing. from Ted Conover's website.

Newjack by Ted Conover EVEN MORE QUESTIONS Suggested by Students

1.  Conover writes, "The process of breaking a man simply takes longer and costs more.  Does it represent injustice or tyranny?  That depends on your point of view." (136)  What is Conover's point of view?  Discuss with five examples from Newjack.

2.  Explain why Conover writes at length about the history of Sing Sing and the death penalty.  Point to several examples from the book.

3. Based on Conover's experience and understanding of other COs, does learning about your prospective prisoners serve as a positive or negative in being able to maintain control?  Explain.

4.  Does Conover offer a fair representation of his superiors (as corrections officers) or does he seem set on making them look like bad guys?  Explain with five examples from Newjack.

5. In the Charlie Rose interview, Conover briefly mentoned that the frustration he went through at the prison followed him home.  Do you think Conover believes it is possible for guards to leave their frustration in the work place?  Explain.

6. Why is race such an important part of Sing Sing prison?  Point to several examples from Newjack as you discuss the question.

7. What makes a good corrections office, in your opinion? If you were a warden, would you hire Conover as a corrections officer?  Why or why not?

8.  Do you think Conover's first day on the "gallery" was as stressful as any other OJT's?  Do you think it was less or more stressful, considering that he is an established writer and journalist?

9.  Turn to pages 123-26 (and other pages, too) as you discuss Conover's experience with inmates as a corrections officer, writer, and citizen. With reference to five examples from Newjack, does Conover compartmentalize (i.e., divide) his perspective as corrections officer, writer, and citizen?   Or not? Explain.

10. Why would a C.O. (in this case St. George) choose not to write a prisoner up when said prisoner has cearly disobeyed some rules? (86)  A follow-up question: Conover writes that "Smith succeeded because he viewed the inmates as human beings." (87)  What does Conover mean by this?

11. What is the point of the Academy if it doesn't prepare you for the real thing? (94)

Conover in his correction officer uniform at Sing Sing Prison

The Supreme Court made an important decision regarding prison conditions in California.  From The New York Times, May 23, 2011, article, "Justices, 5-4, Tell California to Cut Prisoner Population": "Conditions in California’s overcrowded prisons are so bad that they violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday, ordering the state to reduce its prison population by more than 30,000 inmates." The Los Angeles Times story on the Supreme Court decision can be found here.  KQED has also posted an audio interview about the decision.


Angola Prison: In Newjack, Conover mentions the documentary The Farm: Life Inside Angola, that we saw in class. If you missed it, you can watch it online here.  Wish to see the sequel to it?  Watch The Farm: 10 Down, made ten years after the original in the series. Go to for a profile of filmmaker Jonathan Stack and his work on the first  documentary and its sequel about the prison.

Learn more about Angola and the life of one prisoner who spent 41 years in solitary confinement for the crime of killing a prison guard.  The inmate, Herman Wallace, died of cancer just three days after a judge overturned his conviction. NPR reported that "Wallace's conviction [was overturned] on the grounds that he had been denied a fair trial because he was indicted by a grand jury comprised solely of men — in violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment."

This photo of Glenn Ford was taken by his lawyer on March 11, 2014—Ford's first day of freedom
 after 30 years in prison—near St. Francisville, Louisiana. (Gary Clements)

"Glenn Ford's First Days of Freedom After 30 Years on Death Row" in The Atlantic monthly by Andrew Cohen, March 14, 2014. Imprisoned since the Reagan's first tem as president, a man tastes freedom.

"Anywhere he wanted to go, the jubilant defense attorneys told a hungry Glenn Ford late Tuesday afternoon as they left the television cameras behind, piled into their car, and left the yawning grounds of Louisiana's notorious Angola prison. Ford was hungry, very hungry, because from the moment he had learned that he would be released from death row—after serving 30 years there for a murder he did not commit—he had decided that he would not eat another morsel of prison food." Read the rest of the article here.

Los Angeles TimesNovember 27, 2012
Louisiana State Penitentiary [Angola aka The Farm] hosts a popular, long-running prison rodeo, where inmates, many facing life sentences, compete for prizes and a bit of respect.

ANGOLA, La. — In the middle of the rodeo arena, the four men could smell manure from the animal pens and cracklins and caramel corn from the stands as they steadied themselves in their plastic lawn chairs, spread their hands on the red card table in front of them and planted their feet in the mud.
They were bracing for the bull.
Once it was turned loose, the last one sitting in this game called Convict Poker would win. . . .
Louisiana State Penitentiary was once a plantation, Angola, named for the origin of its slaves. Inmates work the fields for 2 cents an hour at what is now the largest maximum-security prison in the country, an 18,000-acre compound about 50 miles north of Baton Rouge that's home to the state's death row and more than 6,200 other prisoners, many of them murderers, armed robbers and rapists (who aren't allowed at the rodeo).
Click here for the full story.


Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour

Episode 6: Jail (From Season 1) 

(prison noises)
It’s night time in the big city
A truck driver runs a red light
A strange quiet man practices tae chi in a park
“The Big House, the brig, the clink, the coop, the gray bar hotel, the hoosegow, the joint , the jug, the pen, the pokie, the slammer, the stir”

jailThe Singers and Songs

“A little bit of swamp pop from Louisiana, which fused R & B, Country, Cajun, and Creole, a real Brasshopper mixture. And, just like Ringo, he’s a singing drummer.”
“Gus Cannon, one of the best-known of all jug band musicians, made himself a special harness, so he could wear his jug around his neck and play banjo at the same time.”
  • Kenny Lane and his Bull Dogs: Columbus Stockade Blues
  • Joe SimonNine Pound Steel
  • Jimmy PattonOkie’s In The Pokie
“A thick slab of rockabilly madness…soundin’ funky drunk and full steam ahead.”
(Click here for complete notes on this episode at The Bob Dylan Fan Club)


False Convictions 
People go to prison for crimes they did not commit. Addressing this issue, The Innocence Project has helped free 303 people. based on DNA evidence, as of April 6, 2013. Affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo.School of Law at Yeshiva University. the Innocence Project was instrumental in helping Brian Banks get his rightful freedom. See, below, an interview with exoneree Brian Banks and his attorney Justin Brooks, director of the California Innocence Project.

First Exoneree to Play Professional Football Inks a Deal With Atlanta Falcons
Posted by the Innocence Project here: April 4, 2013 4:20 pm

Nearly one year after kidnapping and rape charges against a former Southern California high school football player were dismissed, Brian Banks’ dreams to play professional football were fulfilled Wednesday when he inked a deal with the Atlanta Falcons.

The alleged victim claimed that she had been forced to the school’s basement and raped without a condom, but DNA testing did not find sperm on her underwear. Banks was exonerated after the alleged victim was video recorded denying that any crime had taken place.

As a collegiate prospect with a verbal commitment to play at the University of Southern California, Banks was forced to set aside his dreams in 2002 when he took a plea deal to avoid trial and the risk of a lengthy prison sentence. After a five-year stint in prison he was forced to register as a sex offender and wear an electronic monitoring bracelet.

Following his exoneration last May, Banks, who was represented by the California Innocence Project, received calls from several professional football teams and was invited for workouts and tryouts.

Watch Banks and California Innocence Project Director Justin Brooks, above, talk more about Banks’ story and what it means to go pro on MSNBC’s Politics Now.
Yusef Salaam is escorted by police in a scene
 from the documentary "The Central Park Five."
(Clarence Davis / NY Daily News Archive / 

November 29, 2012)
More False Convictions
People go to prison and some released--just ask Yusef Salaam, above--for crimes they did not commit, as some students discovered during past semesters for their research papers. The Washington Post reported a story about an Ohio man falsely convicted and released on December 9, 2014. NBC News also reported on this story. Four articles from the Los Angeles Times examine wrongful convictions with a special focus on the Central Park Five and a recent documentary about the case:  "A 10-year nightmare over rape conviction is over," May 25, 2012, "Cannes 2012: Ken Burns' 'Central Park Five' explores famous crime," May 24, 2012, "A Voice at Last for the 'Central Park Five," November 28, 2012  and a "Review: Devastating 'The Central Park Five' details injustice," November 30, 2012. 

from the PBS website for THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE:

THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE, a new film from award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns, tells the story of the five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem who were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman in New York City’s Central Park in 1989. The film chronicles The Central Park Jogger case, for the first time from the perspective of these five teenagers whose lives were upended by this miscarriage of justice.  Here is the trailer for the documentary broadcast on PBS:

New, April 14, 2015
"Man Convicted in Murder Investigated by Scarcella Is Ordered Freed," The New York Times, April 14, 2015.

New, April 18, 2015
"FBI Admits Flaws in Hair Analysis Over Decades," The Washington Post, April 18, 2015

New, April 21, 2015
"Fix the Flaws in Forensic Science," The New York Times, April 21, 2015


More than two decades after Rosean S. Hargrave was convicted of murdering an off-duty correction officer in Brooklyn, a judge on Tuesday afternoon ordered him released from prison, saying that his trial was deeply flawed and unfair.

The case against Mr. Hargrave was built, in part, on the work of Detective Louis Scarcella and his partner, Stephen W. Chmil, and it is one of dozens of cases that have come under review since accusations emerged that Mr. Scarcella once framed an innocent man.

The scrutiny of Mr. Scarcella’s work has led the Brooklyn district attorney’s office to move to have several convictions thrown out, but this ruling marks a first time that a judge has conducted an independent review of a Scarcella case and found profound problems.

Justice ShawnDya L. Simpson of (New York's) State Supreme Court offered a scathing review of Mr. Scarcella’s record, finding that his work as a detective fundamentally compromised the defendant’s right to a fair trial.

Continue reading the above New York Times news report here.

Friends and family members of Rosean S. Hargrave at a hearing Tuesday in which he was ordered released from prison. Mr. Hargrave was one of two teenagers convicted of shooting two correction officers, killing one, in 1991. 
Sam Hodgson for The New York Times


A former prosecutor wearing a suit writes: "I Got Myself Arrested So I Could Look Inside the Justice System" by Bobby Constantino, in The Atlantic, December 17, 2013. The Los Angeles Times of November 24, 2014, reported "California's Longest-serving Wrongfully Convicted Inmate is a Free Man," and it can be found here.


What is "Club Fed"? Here is one story, "The Secrets of White Collar Prisons," from Dujour 

Tip: "How to Beat a Polygraph Test." Read this from The New York Times, By Malia Wollanapril, April 10, 2015.